I was sitting in a book store in Bondi with a cup of chai, my laptop and the best perch in the house when someone came and sat on the couch beside me. We made small chat over how delicious her croissant looked, how expensive it is to live in Bondi, then she asked “so, what do you do?!”
“I’m a Health Coach” I said.
“So you help people with meal plans, and diets and stuff?!” she asked.
No. Not at all.
Truth is, most people I meet assume that is what a health coach does.
In reality most of my clients are already health-conscious, they’re not afraid of a chia seed pudding, and they probably switched to almond mylk years ago.
What these women really need help with is things like the anxiety they face when choosing what to eat, “white-knuckling it" through the day and then calming their anxieties with a full-sleeve-of-chocolate-biscuits whilst scrolling through the “What’s New” section on Netflix.
Somewhere in the quest to becoming healthier (ahem, “skinnier”), we’ve become convinced that bread makes us fat and our self-worth is measured by our pant size. Our relationship with food has gotten so messy and complicated.
With the health industry exploding with conflicting opinions, eating has become a moral issue, an emotional attachment, and a vehicle for critical self-judgment.
Maybe now you’re at the stage where you’ve hit diet-bottom and feel stuck, frustrated and discouraged.
You know diets suck, but you don’t trust your instincts to steer you in the right direction without one.
You see yourself repeatedly enter the same old negative thought traps about fixing your body, “trying harder” and control, control, control.
The great news is that your instincts can be tuned, and the trust can be built so you can get on living with more freedom and joy in your body.
This post outlines what intuitive eating IS and IS NOT, as an alternative to a restrictive, diet-first mindset.
We look at what it means to drop patterns that don’t support us like emotional and binge eating.
WHAT INTUITIVE EATING COACHING IS NOT
I think it’s helpful to highlight what Intuitive Eating IS NOT first so you know what to expect. The paradigm of a non-diet approach is probably quite different than you’ve ever practiced before.
No need for meal plans, diets or “good” and “bad” food labels
Just to be clear, no diets. Not even diets in disguise.
One of the first things we talk about is your comfort levels of letting go of the diet mentality.
Often we find that your identity and self-worth are closely entwined with the safety-net of diets and control over your body. You might be surprised how deeply tangled your beliefs are.
In early sessions we identify the conscious and unconscious ways that a diet or restrained mentality shows up in our life.
What other areas of your life do you feel held back?
Where else do you feel like you’re constantly seeking permission?
Clients often get their first sense of freedom, relief and gratification because they’ve finally connected the dots. They can see HOW this mindset interconnects with other areas of rigidity and control in their life.
It’s also common to feel fear and discomfort about “what’s going to happen next?!”
Will I gain weight?
But despite the fear, discomfort and a possible landslide of other emotions (that previously saw you run back to “working harder” on the next diet), you’ve decided to be gentle with yourself.
You can now lean on your coaching support whilst exploring what belief patterns are at play, and continue to readjust your definition of “health” outside of perfection and control.
What about meal plans?
Meal plans are usually a tool of dieting for weight loss, however, intuitive eating doesn’t focus on restrictive menus or portioning our snacks.
Moderation and portion control is a regulation of food. We gently experiment on letting go of the “good” and “bad,” right and wrong messages from diet culture.
Instead we practice building trust in our innate biological cues of hunger, fullness and satisfaction.
What you might find helpful instead is getting practical ideas to help you prepare delicious, satisfying meals and snacks to sustainably take care of your needs.
No need for scales or measuring “progress”
Scales and measuring body changes is not a big focus of this work either.
I use to weigh myself to keep track of “how I was going”, especially if was going to a wedding, or if I was going on holidays.
I had my magic number which I later realised was really actually my measure of “skinny enough”.
Over time my EXPECTATION of what that number meant to me (look amazing in bikinis on holidays).
The REALITY of constantly body checking, feeling preoccupied with food (because I was so damn hungry and deprived) ended up getting in the way of me actually enjoying my holiday.
I’d let a certain weight range determine my joy, presence and sense of self worth.
My self-acceptance was conditional on my weight and who I was projecting myself to be; thin enough, pretty enough or can-rock-short-shorts good enough.
Now I don’t own a scale, and I don’t hop on a scale when I stumble into a bathroom that has one.
I’ve learnt to let go of the idea that I should check my weight because I realised I was actually measuring my sense of enough-ness, and how I was allowed to feel about myself that day.
I’ve found putting a pin in checking the scale with clients helpful for building body awareness skills. This supports a healthy cognitive process that gives you freedom and trust with food and your body again.
We set the overall goal to have a healthy relationship with food and our body, which focuses on feeling healthy in our bodies, not looking skinny.
No Need for Weight Loss Goals
I also encourage clients to “put a pin” in trying to lose weight while learning intuitive eating.
We acknowledge that wanting to lose weight is a societal norm and huge expectation on women that we see daily in magazines, movies, TV and advertising.
It’s completely natural and normal to default back to weight loss goals and the belief that you NEED to keep working on your body.
The shift this time is your growing awareness that there is a diet culture, mentality, and belief system that you can CHOOSE to unsubscribe from.
Here’s the thing, hitting your weight loss goals and balancing on the tightrope to maintain it, doesn’t fix poor body image. It doesn’t heal your relationship with food and body.
If your feeling out of balance in your body, you might need to listen to it, understand it, be kinder to it, take care of it and be gentle.
Your weight might change (go up or down) or stay the same when you start eating intuitively. What we can do is help you find a weight that is healthy for your body.
We focus on sustainable mind-body behaviours like: honouring your hunger and respecting your fullness, paying attention to your feelings without using food, and moving your body for how it makes you feel.
WHAT INTUITIVE EATING COACHING IS
With years caught in the diet-first mindset, it can take some practice to develop awareness and trust in your innate, intuitive cues for eating.
An intuitive approach is totally possible for you if you’re ready to go beyond the surface of just understanding the idea of intuitive eating.
Because it’s one thing to understand the concept of “listening to your body”, but it’s another to practice and embody it.
The most confusing part about Intuitive Eating is being free around food and getting to eat whatever you want.
The best part about Intuitive Eating is being FREE around food and getting to eat whatever you want.
What this means is getting help to lay out what beliefs, patterns and stories you might have around food, and determine what’s getting in your way and causing distrust your body.
With practical tools, help reframing mindsets and practice you become more relaxed with food. Food becomes no.big.deal.
“20 years of being afraid of food, and now it’s just food”
- Sarah J
You learn through experimentation, that your own body can guide you toward food choices that feel nourishing, and you develop the mindset that sees you hold no judgment when you choose to eat foods with lesser nutritional value.
The biggest fear clients have is that they would never be able to stop eating if they let the reins go.
Following years of being preoccupied with food rules (and it taking up so much space in your life!), we gently work on giving yourself more permission for pleasure, enjoyment and satisfaction of food over restrictive practices, dieting and over-exercising.
You watch yourself make core mindset shifts about seeing food as a problem to be managed, and instead as something that brings you nourishment, satisfaction, and a sense of intuition.
Your relationship with food now frees up mental energy so that you're able to move on and pursue what’s meaningful, fulfilling and joyful in your life.
You feel safe keeping “bad” foods in the house without fear of losing control, even during more stressful times.
Making a shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset:
intuitive approach to food
Am I hungry?
Do I want this?
Will it be satisfying?
Will I feel deprived if I don’t have it?
Am I filled with too many emotions right now to enjoy this food?
Have I earned it?
Do I deserve this?
How can I make up for it?
I will feel guilty if I eat this.
I exercise so I can eat.
Moving through fear of change
I know the prospect of practicing new intuitive eating mindsets & skills may be a HUGE jump from what your use to, especially if you’ve been dieting for years, binge or emotionally eat.
One of the first steps to bridging the gap from diet mentality to intuitive eating is first acknowledging resistance (fear) of change.
The next step is then giving yourself permission to move out of of your comfortable-rut-zone (the place you feel ‘safe’ but you don’t change a thing about your circumstances).
The Comfort Zone
- by Alister White -
See if coaching is for you by booking a free discovery session
To support your first steps moving from comfort zone to growth zone, you can book a free discovery call to help you clarify your food and body challenges. Together we will outline the steps you can take to start feeling freedom and trust in your body.